We are amazing creatures. Our essence is truly good. Not a dualistic good, but inherently so. Years ago, I realized I had been mistaken my entire life. I had to do something about it. This is that something. It takes much concerted effort to change our lives, but once we choose to do so and continue making that choice with every breath and every step that we take, that is the essence of transformation. There are countless opportunities every day, and we are blessed to be in this together.
Sunday, May 26, 2013
Vigilant Presence in a Hostile World
We will become all that we are in everything that we do.
When we live constantly under stressful or hostile
conditions, we must become most vigilant at maintaining our presence as we
cannot control what people do or how they are. Our mental and emotional states,
on the other hand, are our own. We either get carried away by the winds and the
currents of others, or we become the prevailing force in our lives and in the
lives of others.
It is easy to continue the cycle of reactivity. By doing so we
don’t adequately take care of our own mental and emotional states. Our
conditions, instead, take control over these internal states, leaving us to be
carried away by anything and everyone. This is why we must constantly exercise
our authority over those states of mind and heart. It is only with continued
vigilance over this ownership that we become that bit of peace in every storm. Slowly,
we become more comfortable with that ownership.
This can be very difficult, as stressful conditions can
include threats of violence or even acts of violence. We see these threats and
acts across the planet. As we are all connected, even the most distant of
threats affects us, even if we’re unaware that it does. Yet, our lives continue,
seemingly unabated. It simply becomes more obvious when these are in our
communities and even our own households. If we’ve ever experienced a moment of
peace in our presence, it was something we were touching from within, not
without. That place of presence is always with us, even in the worst of
How do we remain vigilant in these most hostile of
conditions? We can become so exhausted maintaining a defensive posture with our
bodies and our minds. At moments we may succumb to these conditions, striking
out or shutting down are only two potential options. There are consequences for
all options. Instead of constantly being on the defensive, there are tangible
alternatives that can help maintain a vigilant presence.
One of the keys to maintaining
vigilance in hostile terrain is generating compassion. This compassion can
be directed internally for our own pain and suffering as well as externally for
those perpetrating the hostility. This may seem like an impossible task, but if
we explore the situation of the lives of our perpetrators we understand there
are events that have led to what they are perpetrating. This may not lessen the
physical damage, but it can alleviate some of the mental and emotional
repercussions of hostility.
When we generate compassion for those who act against us or
who we feel are acting against us, we’re untethering our internal condition
from external conditions. This brings back ownership over our internal states;
once again we’re at the helm of the vessel of our life, as opposed to
everything and everyone else governing how we think, how we feel and how we
We don’t have to take
all that happens so deeply personally. In the throes of something happening
to us, this can be difficult to believe. We want to fall back into the old
patterns. Instead of claiming ownership over our role, we would much rather
suffer, using others and conditions to do so. The old patterns are familiar and
asking questions of engagement are difficult, tough and requires mental and
emotional resources we’ve become unfamiliar with using. It’s far easier to view
ourselves as the victim then to disrupt this cycle.
When we stop taking everything as a personal attack, each
full of malice and intent, it loosens us up just a bit. It makes us feel less
under attack, less the target. If we constantly view what others do and say as
being directed toward us, it magnifies everything about those actions and those
words make us think and feel.
We have to understand
that magnification is our role in expanding hostility in our lives.
Certainly, people can be abrasive even hurtful, but we don’t have to contribute
to the damage being waged. We can, instead, see that the actions and words of
others say much more about them than it does about our own experience. We can
also act to magnify all the storylines we repeat to ourselves about how we’re
not good enough, about how awful we are and how we don’t deserve goodness. We
do this without even realizing it. The way in which we think and feel about our
own self colors and shades everything we hear and experience.
When we stop magnifying our own hostility as well as the
hostility of others, we immediately begin expanding our presence. We’re not
getting as caught up in our own storylines or in the story others are telling
about us. It can be very difficult to catch ourselves and disrupt this process
of magnification. When we dissect this process, it really exposes how we think
and feel about ourselves. That’s the presence we’re trying to strengthen. What
others do to us or say about us can only affect us if we already think and feel
When harm or even
perceived harm is our reality, we need to engage and challenge the situation
with our awareness. Difficulty is always an opportunity to expand awareness,
not shut that awareness down. What rational human being wants to harm anyone?
This is like poisoning a field or a well that not just yourself but others use
for food or water. This is what hostility does; it poisons the human community;
it perpetuates the cycle of violence. And, we drink from the same well; we eat
from the same field that we’re poisoning.
When we expand our awareness of any situation, it is never a
wasted endeavor. We can begin to see more clearly what is being done and what
we are doing to alleviate or worsen every situation. If we think something is
being done to us, it fundamentally changes the way our minds and hearts
experience what is happening. We need to challenge that belief, not feed into
it. By expanding our awareness, we’re pumping fresh oxygen, fresh energy into
the situation. The alternative is to accept the situation with no hope of
changing it. If we actively engage a situation with our mind and our heart, we
can see it more clearly from multiple perspectives. This lessens the
devastation and broadens our role in the present.
Clearly seeing the
links of cause and effect helps in remaining vigilant. When we become
caught up in these reactivity cycles, we’re only adding to the toxicity
problem. We may not be able to remove all the poison from the fields and wells,
but we don’t have to continue adding poison into every situation and every person
we encounter. To do something different, to stop or even lessen our reactivity
requires so much strength, so much vigilance.
Sometimes, the perpetrators in our life are those that are
in our family or in our household. In this scenario it becomes even more
difficult to remain vigilant, to find compassion. And, the poisoning can be
very subtle. It’s more of a drip drip drip over time as opposed to an obvious, tangible
and damaging oil spill. Subtle toxicity has a long lasting impact; the deepest
parts of the soil become tainted. It can become impossible to discern the
difference between the good from the tainted. In fact, there is no separating
Just as we cannot separate the good from the tainted, when
we play our familiar role within the reactivity cycle, we are playing both the
victim and the perpetrator simultaneously. Our role within the reactivity of a
household is often well-established. Whenever we attempt to break out of those
well-established roles, the entire household can become even more reactive in
response. We must be vigilant to return to being present when we undoubtedly
revert to playing out these roles.
We must have patience
for ourselves in maintaining vigilant presence. We must learn to catch
ourselves before we revert to our old roles. We can even learn to catch
ourselves in the midst of acting out. And, despite all of this effort to do
other than, we can find ourselves on the other side, having already completed our
familiar role in this reactive climate.We’ve lost our presence yet again.
Undoubtedly, we will reprise these roles again and again and
again, and it’s okay; it’s understandable. In the seemingly endless string of
sequels, we have to learn to be okay with losing our presence and coming back
to it. This is the only way. The only way to maintain the vigilance of presence
is to lose that presence. Our conditions, both internal and external, urge us
to go backward, to return to what feels so familiar and normal.
When we lose our presence once again, we must celebrate it
by having patience for it. It’s a blessing. What we have left to work through
has been exposed to us once again. Our presence will grow in strength, and when
we lose it or realize we have already lost it, we just simply acknowledge it.
As we learn how to be present again, patience is vital. Without it, we will
never be able to clear out all the reactivity within us. And, without losing
it, we could never truly find our vigilant presence.
Our vigilance of presence
starts with having compassion for ourselves and others and in not taking anything
personally.We begin to stop magnifying
the storylines we’ve grown to believe about ourselves. We then realize how
cause and effect unfold in our lives. We continue forward challenging our minds
to really engage our lives and our difficulties. Through all of this, we must
always generate patience for ourselves.
It is difficult to disrupt the multitude of prevailing winds
and currents that distract us, to disrupt and break our presence. The multitude
of disruptions originates from not only our conditions but from ourselves as
well. However, we can do this.We
can continue to work toward being present in all that we do. Over time, our
presence will become our new default. Over time, we will become the prevailing
wind and current that others seek out as shelter in their storms. We will become all that we are in everything
that we do. That’s what vigilance of presence becomes. We can do this. We
can begin today.